OHIO CAMPAIGNING Bus tour fends off complaints

Republicans are on the defensive in talks about Ohio's economic problems.
COLUMBUS (AP) -- Five Democratic Ohio mayors began a five-city bus tour Thursday through a presidential battleground state to talk about job losses, the poor quality of roads and bridges, and the slow flow of federal homeland security money to cities.
Then they had to fend off upset Republicans.
A senior White House official called the United States Conference of Mayors with concerns about its bus tour, said group president and Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic, who also fielded a call from a GOP friend in Congress.
"They are very, very concerned," Plusquellic said.
"Republican mayors stood with us" to unanimously pass the bipartisan group's policy recommendations, he said.
Addressing issues
President Bush's Ohio campaign moved quickly Thursday to respond to the mayors' policy agenda, announced Wednesday in Chicago. Ohio Rep. Mike Turner spoke with reporters in a conference call to defend the president's record point-by-point and "with zeal," the Dayton Republican said.
Brendon Cull, Ohio spokesman for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, said there'd be no official response, but "we're grateful that they're bringing up these issues."
"There are a variety of things we're facing as a nation that I don't see as Democratic or Republican issues," Plusquellic said by cell phone as the "Battleground Mayors Fighting for Jobs" bus rolled from Dayton to Cincinnati. "The statistics are what they are."
The group cited studies by independent economists saying Ohio has not benefited from the national economic recovery this year, with employment declining by 3.7 percent compared with 0.3 percent nationwide, and that new jobs being created have lower wages than those that were lost.
Bipartisan tradition
The group of 1,139 mayors of cities with populations of 30,000 or more is about 60 percent Democratic, said Plusquellic, who ranks Republican President Nixon among the best in history for urban issues.
Plusquellic said he'd rather see the candidates try to outdo each other answering the cities' questions rather than talking about "things that someone did 35 years ago," Plusquellic said.
"People win if these candidates get competitive and start talking about the issues," he said.
The mayoral group has been consistent in its message for years and usually critical of the incumbent president regardless of party, said Stephen Brooks, associate director of the University of Akron's Bliss Institute for Applied Politics.
"Their plan of what's important, I don't see as partisan at all," he said.
Effects on campaigns
Still, the Bush campaign isn't likely to welcome criticism on the economy or how homeland security money trickled to cities, Brooks said.
"I don't see how this bus trip can harm Kerry," he said. "I don't think they're picking Kerry's issues. John Kerry may be picking their issues."
The cities on the tour -- Columbus, Dayton, Cincinnati, Toledo and Cleveland -- are in major television markets, and all but Toledo are in counties with large numbers of swing voters, said Scott Althaus, professor of communication and political science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
"At this point in the campaign, the more that news attention is focused on the issue of jobs as opposed to other issues, the more likely it is the Kerry campaign will benefit," he said.

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